Sign In Forgot Password

the greatest gift

12/16/2021 08:55:16 AM


Rabbi Jeffrey Myers

‘Tis the season for gift giving. You might be amazed to learn that Chanukah was never a gift-giving holiday, but that we do have a holiday where gift-giving is part of the celebration. That holiday is: Purim. We read in Chapter 9:22 of Megillat Esther: They were to observe them as days of feasting and merrymaking, and as an occasion for sending gifts to one another and presents to the poor (translation from Sefaria). As Chanukah evolved in the United States, and because of its frequent proximity to Christmas, Chanukah too became a gift-giving holiday.

With so many circulars and emails about sales and special offerings, I began thinking about what would really be a great gift for most people. In light of this week’s Torah portion, when the patriarch Jacob lies on his deathbed and offers a last bit of prophecy and ethical will for each of the progenitors of the twelve tribes, what do I pass down to my children?

Judaism has already given a wonderful gift to the world, yet it is regrettably less realized than it should be. That gift is the Shabbat. Prior to Judaism, the entire world knew nothing of the concept of a day of rest. Every day was the same. Judaism taught all of humanity that we need to set aside one day per week to cease from work (Shabbat means “rest”, or “cessation of work”), even extending this prohibition to our farm animals. On the simplest level, we cease work because God did, as we read in Genesis 2:1-3: The heaven and the earth were finished, and all their array. On the seventh day, God finished the work that He had been doing, and He ceased on the seventh day from all the work that He had done. And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because on it God ceased from all the work of creation that He had done (translation from Etz Hayim). We emulate God when we cease our work. We also express gratitude to God for God’s acts of creation, which culminated in the creation of humanity.

We are overworked human beings, and I recently read an article (forgive me, but I do not recall the source) that stated that the average person in the United States devotes a minimum of 50 hours for a 40-hour work week. How many of you, when you go on vacation (Remember a vacation?), totally disconnect from work, and do not check work email? We work during vacation, we work on our day off, we work, work, work. We lack the devotion to ourselves to recharge the batteries. That is the genius of Shabbat. We are blessed with a 25-hour period to disconnect from work and reconnect with God and those whom we hold dear. How nice it is to have a Shabbat eve dinner and not have to run out to a meeting or log in to a Zoom call? Besides, who doesn’t like a slice of freshly baked challah?

We need to redeem this wondrous gift to the world, and give ourselves over to Shabbat, labelled “an island in time” by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. No matter how you define the cessation of work, whatever it is that you do or don’t do, Shabbat stands as an overlooked gift that needs to be re-opened every Friday afternoon.  To me, it is far more valuable than anything that I could ever purchase. Shabbat Shalom.

Sun, August 7 2022 10 Av 5782